Facebook launches 'Study' app that pays users for data

Facebook's new Study app allows users to share their app activity in exchange for compensation. The social media giant insists that the data will only be used for their purposes and not be sold to third parties.

Facebook on Tuesday launched an app that pays users to share information about which apps they are using. 

Business | 04.06.2019

The new app, called Study, collects data on which apps its participants are using on their phones, for how long they are using them and what activities they do on the apps. Facebook insists the app will not collect data like account IDs and passwords or user photos, videos and messages, nor will it sell the information it collects to third parties.

Read more: Washington to Big Tech: You're on notice

Interested users have to register before being invited to download the app, a process during which they are informed about what information they are sharing. Participants will be paid for the information they give, though Facebook didn't specify how much. 

"We’ve learned that what people expect when they sign up to participate in market research has changed, and we’ve built this app to match those expectations. We’re offering transparency, compensating all participants, and keeping people’s information safe and secure," Product Manager Sagee Ben-Zedeff said in a company statement.

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Third attempt

The tech giant previously rolled out two similar apps that tracked user activities, but both were shut down over criticism of invading privacy.

One of the apps, called Research, landed in hot water earlier this year after a report found that teenagers were using it and it was sidestepping Apple App Store guidelines. The app provider then removed Research from its platform before Facebook eventually shut it down completely.

The other, Onavo Protect, was a VPN service from Facebook used to keep information private in public setting. However, the service was collecting information about app usage and sending it to Facebook. That app has also been shut down.

Read more: 'Vast' far-right disinformation networks discovered in EU

Study is different than the previous two and was built from scratch. Facebook also said the app will only be available in the Google Play Store to people in the United States and India, but it hopes to expand it to more people and to Apple's iOS in the future.

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Facebook has drawn criticism in recent years for collecting and pooling data without users' permission. Last year, the social media titan was caught in a major scandal after it was revealed that Cambridge Analytica, a British political consulting firm, had been harvesting data from millions of Facebook profiles without consent.

Read more: Cambridge Analytica causing trouble for Facebook in Southeast Asia

Legislators around the world have since sought to curb Facebook's ability to collect data without permission. Earlier this year, Germany barred Facebook from forcing users to agree to partially unrestricted access to data from its services, including Instagram and WhatsApp. 

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Free speech or illegal content?

Whether hate speech, propaganda or activism, governments across the globe have upped efforts to curb content deemed illegal from circulating on social networks. From drawn-out court cases to blanket bans, DW examines how some countries try to stop the circulation of illicit content while others attempt to regulate social media.

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Social media law

After a public debate in Germany, a new law on social media came into effect in October. The legislation imposes heavy fines on social media companies, such as Facebook, for failing to take down posts containing hate speech. Facebook and other social media companies have complained about the law, saying that harsh rules might lead to unnecessary censorship.

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Right to be forgotten

In 2014, the European Court of Justice ruled that European citizens had the right to request search engines, such as Google and Bing, remove "inaccurate, inadequate, irrelevant or excessive" search results linked to their name. Although Google has complied with the ruling, it has done so reluctantly, warning that it could make the internet as "free as the world's least free place."

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Blanket ban

In May 2017, Ukraine imposed sanctions on Russian social media platforms and web services. The blanket ban affected millions of Ukrainian citizens, many of whom were anxious about their data. The move prompted young Ukrainians to protest on the streets, calling for the government to reinstate access to platforms that included VKontakte (VK), Russia's largest social network.

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Safe Harbor

In 2015, the European Court of Justice ruled that Safe Harbor, a 15-year-old pact between the US and EU that allowed the transfer of personal data without prior approval, was effectively invalid. Austrian law student Max Schrems launched the legal proceedings against Facebook in response to revelations made by former US National Security Agency (NSA) contractor, Edward Snowden.

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In China, the use of social media is highly regulated by the government. Beijing has effectively blocked access to thousands of websites and platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest. Instead, China offers its citizens access to local social media platforms, such as Weibo and WeChat, which boast hundreds of millions of monthly users.

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Twitter bans Russia-linked accounts

Many politicians and media outlets blame Russia's influence for Donald Trump's election victory in 2016. Moscow reportedly used Facebook, Twitter, Google, and Instagram to shape public opinion on key issues. In October 2017, Twitter suspended over 2,750 accounts due to alleged Russian propaganda. The platform also banned ads from RT (formerly Russia Today) and the Sputnik news agency.

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Facebook announces propaganda-linked tool

With social media under pressure for allowing alleged Russian meddling, Facebook announced a new project to combat such efforts in November 2017. The upcoming page will give users a chance to check if they "liked" or followed an alleged propaganda account on Facebook or Instagram. Meanwhile, Facebook has come under fire for not protecting user data in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

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